TLDR; Learn how you can handle negative reviews and remove fake reviews from Yelp! and other online review sites.
Few things can be more painful than seeing someone publicly smearing your (hopefully) good name. Negative word-of-mouth has been going on for centuries, just in different ways!
“I can see he’s not in your good books,’ said the messenger.
‘No, and if he were I would burn my library.”
It is not uncommon these days for the grievances of unhappy customers and ex-employees to be played out by maliciously reviewing businesses online.
There is a fine line between constructive reviews based on fact and malicious lying based on nothing but anger. We will try to help you make things right again!
This article was updated in May 2020 and is 100% Covid-free!
Can Hook SEO Remove a Negative Review For Me?
This is a self-help article created from years of research, but please understand that HOOK SEO does not have the staff to help you.
I feel your pain, I truly do. But please do not call and ask us to remove your reviews. Use this information to help yourself.
If you would prefer to listen to most of the advice discussed in this article, we cover it in episode 1 of the podcast DIGITAL MARKETING MASTERS, available on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Castbox, Spotify, Alexa, and pretty much anywhere you listen to podcasts.
If you are a business dealing with many locations, or hundreds of reviews and you want to talk to an expert on review management, then you should definitely contact us about consulting with your marketing staff or operations people on how you can handle problems with review spam, fake reviews, negative reviews, or a lack of reviews.
Can I Remove a Yelp Review?
Yes and No.
Yes, with a little know-how, it is possible for some reviews.
No, because it’s not always possible. Yelp and other review sites such as Google, Facebook, Yellow Pages, Dex, Trip Advisor, RipOff Report, BBB, etc., all have the right (in the USA) to legally store and display user-created content without being liable for its content. Long story short, they don’t have to remove anything if they don’t want to, with a few exceptions.
But all is not lost!
I’ve gotten hundreds of reviews removed over the years and had people let me know this helped them remove reviews hundreds of times. If you stick to the process outlined here, it will give you a fighting chance!
What if a Review Crime is Being Committed?
If you believe you are being blackmailed or extorted or harassed, you can use our Free Review Crime Course to find out how to report a review crime.
If you are a lawyer or law enforcement professional, you can use our Free Review Crime Course to find out how to report a review crime or obtain legal information from Yelp, Google, and other review sites.
Few things can be more frustrating than a fake negative review.
They seem impossible to remove and they seldom get “filtered” by company algorithms such as Yelp! employs to “protect businesses from fake reviews.”
“They cook the food in the morning and then leave it out all day on the counter. It is disgusting!”
Here is another example:
“The fat waitress was rude and didn’t even bring us water. When I asked her about it, she just walked off and ignored us. What a bitch. Won’t go there again!”
What do these two reviews have in common?
- They are both fakes.
- They won’t get auto-filtered by the review site’s algorithm.
- You can get these removed about 90% of the time with a little know-how.
Even though nearly 20% of young people no longer read reviews at all, more than 50% of young people said they always look at reviews when looking for a local business. People over 50 are way more likely to read reviews, closer to 90%. Your online reputation still matters, even in 2020.
Negative Reviews: What NOT To Do
The first thing not to do is to freak out and leave a badly worded and enraged reply to the comment. This will make it more likely that the review will not be removed.
DO NOT threaten Yelp! or Google that you will sue them or take them to court over a review. They are huge companies. They live in court. Unless you have very deep pockets, don’t even consider this.
Retaliation is NOT a good idea – you are more likely to get in even more trouble.
DO NOT get into a “flame war” with someone on a review site. It will just make you both look unprofessional and unreasonable and it could drive them to seek out more review sites to bad mouth your business further.
DO NOT track them down on other social media to bad mouth them or their business. This comes under retaliation, but I wanted to mention it twice. Just don’t do it!When it comes to reviews, what NOT to do, is just as important as what you need to do. Click To Tweet
Remove Fake Reviews: How Can I Get This Crap Removed?
1. The easiest way, by far, is to have the customer remove their negative review.
This is not always possible but this is your first go-to step to remove a negative review. All they need to do is log back onto the website they left the review on and hit the “remove” or “delete” button under their own review.
Note: On Yelp!, reviewers cannot delete reviews from the mobile Yelp App. It’s a good idea to let the reviewer know How To Delete A Yelp Review.
They have to log into Yelp with a computer to delete their review. They can edit their review on the app, such as changing from 2 stars, to 4 stars, or changing the text. To delete, they can go to ABOUT ME -> REVIEWS and then click on the little garbage can icon on the bottom right next to the review for your business.
Deleting reviews can work on Ripoff Report, Google+, Yelp!, Facebook, Yellow Pages, YMLP and other review and map sites.
- Calm down. Only contact the offending reviewer with a level head.
- Try to contact the customer offline – or at least off the review site itself. Best is to be able to talk to them in person or over the phone. See if they left a comment card or if you have any contact information for them.
- Be overly polite and nice. People have a hard time arguing with polite people. (Kill ’em with kindness!)
- Tell them you understand their frustration or why they are upset. Empathy wins.
- Take steps to clear up the issue and make an honest effort to do so.
- Make sure that there is verifiable or at least anecdotal evidence the consumer or ex-employee will be able to see and believe the issue is resolved.
- Ask them to remove or at least modify their review.
- Explain to them that other people work there and that bad reviews are hurting their friends that work there or people who count on those jobs to support their families.
- It’s not about you! It’s about them. Make them think they are doing a good deed by removing their review.
- Offer them something in return as a gesture of good faith, such as a free coffee or free meal at your restaurant or cafe, or to come in and see changes you have made that will alleviate their concerns.
I understand that you had a bad experience at Cafe Hook SEO last week. I wanted to let you know that we have taken steps to ensure that all our other servers are aware that every table should be given water immediately after being seated and that it is important, especially in the hot summer months.
If you would like, I can leave a gift certificate for you for a free dessert next time you come into the cafe so that you can see how we have made these changes based on your input. If this is satisfactory, I would like to ask you to remove your complaint on Yelp.
Please note that Yelp reviews cannot be removed on the mobile app and have to be removed from the www.yelp.com website.
Not every step is going to be appropriate or work for every customer, but anything you can do to get them to remove their bad review is worth the effort, especially in service-based businesses where your reputation is everything.
2. T.O.S. Violations
Every review site has something they call their T.O.S. or Terms Of Service. This is where they list all the things they allow and don’t allow in their reviews.
If a review is a personal attack on an employee, defamatory, derogatory or attacks a person based on disability, race, ethnicity, religion or other factors, you can have their reviews removed.
In the previous example where someone says, “our fat waitress” is generally enough to have a review removed for T.O.S. violations, even though they are not pointing out a specific individual. Also look at the following example.
“John was our server and he was terrible. He was slow when he was there and smelled like pot.”
John is not the owner of the business, so this review can potentially be removed as a TOS violation.
Always mention that you “believe” it is a Terms Of Service violation. In many review sites, they use an automated support process called a ticketing system, and that system is programmed to first review an incoming contact for certain words. If it detects words like TOS in your message, it is likely to send that review to someone who deals with T.O.S. violations directly. This improves your chances of having a review removed.
Hello. In this review I have flagged, they mention an employee named ‘John’ and that he smells like marijuana. This is not true and I believe that mentioning him by name is a violation of the Yelp terms of service.
And another example:
In this review, Mrs. Downer has mentioned that her ‘fat waitress’ was slow and didn’t give them water to drink. We have a couple employees who some may consider over-weight and I believe that this rude and unfounded personal attack on them is a violation of the Google terms of service for reviews.
Debbie D. was working for us for the past 3 months. She left this review the day that she was let go. This review is nothing more than ex-employee retaliation and I believe is against the Yelp! terms of service.
One note about T.O.S. removals is that you should also reply to the review publicly stating that you have requested it be removed as a violation of their TOS. For example, “This fake review has been flagged for a violation of the Yelp! terms of service.”
Foul language is an easy way to get a review removed for a T.O.S. violation. If they are calling people names or using profanity, these can be reported and removed.
Review Site Terms of Service & Removal Guidelines
Yelp: Content Guidelines
Google Maps / Google My Business: User Contributed Content Policy Help Center
Facebook: Community Standards
Yellow Pages: User Generated Content Terms
Trip Advisor: Help Center
Dex: Review Guidelines
CitiSearch: Help Center
3. Reply if all else fails – but not always!
If you cannot have a review removed by the reviewer or for T.O.S., then replying may be your only other option.
1. If the reviewer sounds like a whiner, completely unreasonable or says something that makes them seem stupid, don’t reply. People will get it and ignore their review.
Note: this is where the “helpful” and “not helpful” buttons on most review sites come in. Click on “not helpful” and you can encourage others people you know to do the same. When you ask other people to do this, make sure they don’t all do it once! The review site will detect this and ignore them.
2. If you have proof that the review is false, post it in a way that seems factual and not emotional.
“Our supplier of ice cream is Tillamook Creamery and you can visit their website to see the ingredients are all natural.”
“You obviously don’t know your ass from ice cream because we use nothing but the best, you troll!!!1!!”
3. If the person never stepped foot in your store, say that.
“Debbie D. is neither a current or past customer of our store. This is a fabrication.”
As I said earlier, legal action is unlikely to help in most cases. If you have proof that someone or a group of people at a competing business are conspiring to ruin your business, you may be able to use legal action to stop them.
The first step would be to get legal advice from an attorney. Make sure they are very familiar with the Internet and technology. A misrepresentation of the technology can just end up making you and your business look worse.
The first step usually is to send a cease and desist letter (also known as an “infringement letter” or “demand letter”) telling them that they need to stop and remove all negative reviews from the listed accounts or face future legal action.
If you believe an actual crime is being committed, such as someone asking you for money or they will ruin your reputation, use our Free Review Crime Course to find out how to report a review crime or how to obtain legal information from Yelp and other review sites if you are legal counsel or a law enforcement person.
Review Spam is Becoming a Serious Issue
Review spam is where people have set up networks of accounts using “bots” (automated computer programs) or are paying people to randomly review businesses. The reason they do this is that they sell reviews. They want to “build up” fake accounts so that when people pay them to leave false positive or negative reviews, the review will not get filtered as easily. There have been reports of review spam networks covering thousands of reviews.
Usually, they are fairly easy to detect by looking at their accounts. If they are reviewing a motorhome manufacturer in Vancouver, a bar in New York, and an Ice Cream Shop in London on the same day, they are probably fake accounts. They often will have lots of accounts with just stars and no description on sites like Google or they will have the same sounding reviews every place.
Sometimes the poor grammar can also give them away.
“These guys really know what talking about. They handle my service good. I will back for them for later use.”
Always report review spam, but make sure you check for TOS violations in their reviews first. It is especially difficult to get a review removed for being review spam because companies don’t want to admit that they are not taking care of their data about your business by allowing review spam to continue.
Positive Review Spam?
If someone is positively reviewing you, and it’s fake, why should you care?
Well, I’ll tell you why.
They often are copying the text of your previous REAL positive reviews and then it looks like YOU are the one trying to build up your own business with fake reviews.
We have not been able to confirm this yet, but we’ve had reports of people having both the real and fake reviews removed automatically by Yelp’s algorithm because of this.
Account Violation Reporting
This is a little more work, but if you look at someone’s Yelp or Google account and it’s obvious that they are just trolling every competitor around their own business, you can report their account. Usually, you will have to google how to contact support on the platform but it’s worth it because if their account gets removed, ALL their bad removes go with them.
What the heck is Brushing?
Brushing is when people use your name and address to buy stuff from websites like Amazon or Wishon your behalf so it looks like their product is getting more purchases. A product might just show up at your door one day. If it does, you’ve been “brushed!” Don’t worry though, it’s rarely a tactic that has anything to do with you. They just found public info and sent you stuff. Consider your free cheapo-sunglasses to be a tiny blessing.
Reviews and SEO
Everyone knows reviews affect search rank… or do they?
According to an article posted on Bright Local, Google is checking reviews, but they are looking for an overall reputation. Having more positive reviews may give you a good reputation, but the odd negative review isn’t going to tank your search rankings.
“…we do think that it is extremely important to stay on top of your online review profile. While we don’t know how, or even if Google is measuring it, we think that there is a good chance that they are. In our site quality reviews, we have seen time and time again that many sites that were negatively affected by the August 1, 2018 or September 27, 2018 algorithm updates had horrible online review profiles.
While every business is likely to get the odd negative review, what we believe Google is trying to measure algorithmically is whether there is an overwhelmingly negative sentiment online about the reputation of a business.
If your client’s business has the odd negative review, this is not likely to hurt their rankings. But if reviews are reflecting obvious business problems such as lack of refunds, extremely poor service, etc. then you may find that Google does not want to rank these businesses highly.”
What If I Just Ignore Yelp?
This infographic shows why you can’t just ignore Yelp! With over 169 million unique visitors per month, Yelp is here to stay. Like it or not, people are reviewing your business and people are looking up your business to see what their peers had to say.
Want an update on Yelp as of 2019? Check the Yelp Fact Sheet
Negative Reviews Can Affect Your Website Search Ranking
According to Neil Patel’s Beginner’s Guide to Negative SEO:
Negative online reviews and a negative sentiment against your brand can hamper your local search rankings. Only 5% of consumers will convert after encountering a negative review of your product.
Use Positive Reviews To Protect Your Reputation
Having your best customers, friends and relatives review your business can help to fortify your accounts from negative reviews… but you have to do it right!
How do you get positive reviews without having them all filtered? Follow these 5 easy steps:
- Don’t review with brand-new accounts.
- Don’t have everyone review it at the same time.
- Don’t review from people in a different geographical area.
- Don’t review from people not near your business location at the time of their review.
- Have others click on their reviews as “helpful”.
Build up new Yelp! accounts or other review accounts by reviewing several other local businesses in the same area before reviewing your own business. This will show the Yelp algorithm that your account wasn’t set up just to review this one business.
If you send a mass email out to everyone you know or all your customers to review your site at the same time, the algorithms will detect this as “review bating” and hide their reviews. Try asking people as they come to the store or on social media, or send out an email to a couple of people at a time.
People who are reviewing your business in Hillsboro, Oregon on their mobile device that are in Tampa Bay, Florida will have their reviews de-listed or flagged for removal most of the time. Yelp! knows they aren’t in your business.
Businesses where people check-in with Yelp are more likely to have the reviews stick.
Before You Call Us… Please Read This
We have provided this information to help you deal with your negative or fake reviews.
It is not a service we offer.
We understand business leaders find reviews frustrating sometimes, but this is a DIY article.
We hear a lot of sad stories, and I feel for those people. I really do. But we just can’t help everyone, so please use this information to help yourself improve your online reputation. You can also listen to our DIGITAL MARKETING MASTERS PODCAST on YouTube:
HELPFUL SMALL-BUSINESS COVID INFORMATION
More than a dozen podcast episodes with COVID advice for Business Owners: Digital Marketing Masters Podcast
Stay safe out there, my friends!
~Matt from Hook SEO
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I hope that this short guide will help you improve your reviews on social media, review and map sites and help you deal with negative reviews. Here are some links to connect with Hook SEO for more tips on promoting your local business, SEO and online marketing.
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